Ukrainian refugees in Israel: High Court pressures Shaked's quota

The High Court questioned whether Shaked had sufficient authority on her own to issue the quota and demanded an update.

 Refugees from Ukraine wait to board a bus to Warsaw after crossing the border from Ukraine to Poland, fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at border checkpoint in Kroscienko, Poland, March 17, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)
Refugees from Ukraine wait to board a bus to Warsaw after crossing the border from Ukraine to Poland, fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at border checkpoint in Kroscienko, Poland, March 17, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)

The High Court of Justice on Sunday put pressure on Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked regarding her 5,000-person quota for additional Ukrainian refugees who have no Jewish connection.

Following a hearing Sunday afternoon, the court issued an interim order that raised questions about whether Shaked had sufficient authority to issue the quota and demanded an update by March 23-28.

The panel of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Justice Uzi Vogelman and Justice Yitzhak Amit said they had been notified that the Knesset would weigh in on the issue on March 23, and that even the quota itself was due to expire on March 27, unless it is extended or altered.

Accordingly, the justices said the state must update them on any changes to the quota as soon as such changes are made, but not later than March 28.

During the hearing, the court pressed the state, saying it was unclear if Shaked had the authority to create such a quota without a decision by the full government. Her quota seemed to contradict an earlier government decision on the issue and a bilateral agreement between Israel and Ukraine, the court said.

 Ayelet Shaked addressing questions on the Ukrainian refugees in Israel, March 8, 2022 (credit: ELAD ZAGMAN) Ayelet Shaked addressing questions on the Ukrainian refugees in Israel, March 8, 2022 (credit: ELAD ZAGMAN)

The hearing came about through a petition by attorney Tomer Warsaw at the behest of the Ukrainian government, which was angered by the quota.

At the same time, the quota has already undergone changes, as there is no current limit on how many Ukrainians with a familial Jewish connection to Israel can come here during the ongoing war with Russia.

Still, the state argued that Shaked’s quota was constitutional because the relevant law and bilateral deal that allows Ukrainians into Israel for at least three months without any special limitations were only relevant to peacetime tourists, not to wartime, when such persons might try to permanently resettle in Israel.

Warsaw said that all of this was beside the point since only 7,000 to 8,000 Ukrainians came into Israel in the last month, falling far short of the droves Shaked said needed to be held off to avoid endangering Israel’s Jewish demography.

The situation was very dynamic, and the state needed the quota system to keep an eye on the numbers in case they started to get out of control, attorney for the state Omri Epstein said.

But Hayut questioned him hard, saying: “Ideally, there would be no quota, and at first there was no quota until March 10. What happened on March 10 that caused you to need to set a quota? Was there data that was the basis of [predictions of a] flood [of refugees]?”

As Hayut questioned him further, it turned out that only about 170 of 1,000 Ukrainians coming into the country per day had no Jewish connection.

Still, Epstein said there should be no complaint yet because the numbers were still around 1,700 people below the quota.

Hayut did not accept this, saying that if Shaked lacked authority to set a quota in the first place, then anyone she was rejecting had been illegally turned away.